On being at
the front desk

The public face of the Labs was that of the many people who tended the front desk, selling memberships, tickets, magazines and books, and offering information about ‘what’s on tonight’. So here are a few reminiscences by some of these important workers that failed to make it into the book. Philippa Jeffrey was the closest the Drury Lane Lab got to having an administrator, (though Lyndsey Bareham, celebrated cookery-writer, was styled Jim’s ‘secretary’ for a while, and certainly smartened up his letters). Solonge Zamora and Ulla Dreihaus who worked at Drury Lane, and Mary Kay Ricks who worked at Robert Street, are linked in having been at different times David Kilburn’s flatmates in Long Acre. Dany Broadway and her friend Sue (who both appear in many images in the book, but who I have failed to trace) and Biddy Peppin were also Drury Lane regulars; so occasionally were Jim and I, but less often, though Jim’s genial ‘welcome’ to people did much to establish the Drury Lane Lab’s atmosphere in its first year. At Robert Street, Mary Kay, Liz Ewens and Annie Brumbaugh were among those who tended the desk.   



This image of Drury Lane’s front desk was taken by the Italian photojournal ABC (March 68) and shows l-r: coffee bar organiser Spiros, a Human Family member, Dany Broadway and her friend and co-desk worker Sue. 

The front desk with Dany, Sue, Spiros et al.

Here Annie Brumbaugh and a supercilious-looking me appear in front of an unremembered artist’s painting at Robert street.  

Annie Brumbaugh & David Curtis
Solonge at the front desk

Solonge: The Arts Lab in Drury Lane, was my introduction to London’s underground counter culture. I was au pairing in Hampstead for two NT actors; they introduce me to the actor Michael Gothard who took me to Ronnie Scott’s and the Arts Lab. I immediately fell in love with the experimental underground scene. At my first opportunity, I went back to explore the place. I sat on the floor by the entrance with a Bakounine book in hand. I wanted to take in the various characters coming through the door. It did not take long for Jim Haynes to accost me and ask what I was reading? (I was not…). When Jim found out that I spoke French and German, he convinced me that I was the person they needed at the reception. My next recall is of Nigel Samuel coming to pick me up from Hampstead, plucking the only blooming rose on his path to the door. When I eventually join the Arts Lab team, I was utterly overwhelmed by the bursting Avant-Garde creativity of that hub. There were continuous screenings of International underground films in a chairless cinema. The exhibitions were experimental and cutting edge. In the upstairs cafe, you would be faced by a multi-coloured array of people, very often out of their heads on Purple Haze and various other psychedelic drugs. Working on the front desk, we had the privilege to welcome a continuous influx of people from all strata of society, artists, writers, poets, film makers, theatre people, politicians, revolutionary students, layabouts, etc. The Lab became a magnet of the London counter culture. So many people came through, from all over the world, now, many have become famous icons of the sixties Avant-Garde.   I remember Yoko coming in with John; we realised we were wearing the same sailor trousers from Laurence Corner. [Second-hand and military clothes shop in the Hampstead rd.].  Also, I was looking forward to meeting Leonard Cohen, and, being stunned by his chronic shyness and diminutive figure. I met a lovely American man, Dutch White, living outside Geneva, he invited me to visit when next there. His father, who was a lawyer, had fled the McCarthy witch hunt with Charlie Chaplin. The Whites had bought an old convent; it became a refuge for many young American deserters of the Vietnam War. I ended up going to the South of France with them, to restore a ruin they had bought in a tiny medieval village. Alan Aldridge was a regular visitor too; he lived round the corner, and used to come to visit us regularly in Dave Kilburn’s Long Acre flat. Another memorable encounter was the bass-guitarist of Jimmy Hendrix, who had looks to die for; he whisked me off, so preventing me from going to the Rolling Stones country home, for one of their regular parties. My Arts Lab experience, is etched in my memory, as a rich and colourful encounter with the sixties Avant-Garde. OMG! We were so lucky…

Here Philippa Jeffrey is at the Drury Lane’s soft cinema entrance, photographed again for the Italian photojournal ABC. Note the shelves for shoes, which we asked people to take off to preserve the cinema’s seatless soft floor. Visible also on the left is Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome poster, and on the right, half-concealed by the door, the Mark Boyle/Graziela Martinez poster with its enigmatic overprinting (sadly invisible here) ‘introducing David Bowie’, (more of that in the book!). 

Philippa at the cinema entrance of the Drury Lane Lab

Philippa: For anyone walking in off the street The Desk was the first place to state one’s business, buy a membership or tickets to live readings, theatre, cinema screenings, gallery events, musical events. It was also the place to ask to meet people working there as well as being the contact point for delivery of materials and ingredients for the small restaurant experimenting in the latest American “Macrobiotic” diet. … I worked in ‘Adminʼ along with other helpers, mainly women, because ‘manning The Desk’ was meant to provide a suitably gentle welcome during opening hours, six days a week. Hours were flexible.. Activities would generally start to bustle later in the day rather than earlier, including all-night rehearsals and some all-night screenings….  I got to see a lot of faces and briefly meet a lot of people, some of whom were already known and some who would later become celebrities in the arts world; I personally was not into publicity and seeking out new performers, performances, films, exhibitions and concerts. A lot of people with interesting ideas came to the Arts Lab seeking a venue in which to experiment. 


Ulla de Mora (Dreihaus):  Back to the sixties. There was that fateful day in March 1969 when people from the Little Theatre [Human Family? Lillia Teatren Lund?] who had been sleeping on the floor in the Lab moved into the [boarded-up Bell Hotel] building next door, (as the first Squatter event in centuries, I believe), and I got into the excitement of it all, and the idea of living rent free, and moved out of [David Kilburn’s flat in] Long Acre to become a squatter in Drury Lane, with the help of the Hare Krishna people who had a small van. They were tenants in the IT building around the corner from the Lab, which then belonged to Nigel Samuel. They were unsuccessful in adding me to their flock, but ended up getting all my beautiful German-made lambswool sweaters, to wear under their gowns on cold winter days. I was cultivating a hippie look at the time, and wasn’t going to be using those straight-people clothes no more, lol. I have a huge story about Nigel Samuel [19 year old, and on the Lab’s letterhead as a director], … He used me as his driver on several visits to Cornwall. The car I had to drive was an Aston Martin, no less. Nigel and his sister had become orphaned not long before, and they had inherited a huge fortune. Several million pounds. And so he became involved with several Hippie projects, like the International Times, and also the Trinidadian Michael X, who was trying to set up a Black Power movement but instead ended up being executed for murder in Trinidad a few years later. And since I was involved with Nigel, I nearly accompanied him to Trinidad. He had already purchased the tickets. But we broke up just in time, as my guardian angel wouldn’t have any of it. Nigel did not like that I suspected that Michael X was using him only to get money out of him.  I warned [Nigel] one Sunday, while visiting Michael X’s family in Islington, where I was made to sit in the front room while Michael and his henchmen drugged Nigel in the back, before making him sign a £10,000 cheque. So Nigel decided quickly that I was going to become a problem, and ordered a taxi to come and pick me up and take me back to Long Acre. I never saw him again. Back to that squat.. that same night I met my [first] husband, photographer Tony Heathcote. And he was so shocked to see me living amongst Hell’s Angels in an abandoned building with neither electricity nor functioning bathrooms that he suggested that I stay with him and two other photography students in their Sinclair Road West Kensington flat. Thus ended my one year spell in Covent Garden.


International Times's article on the Bell Hotel squat [Napier collection]

Mary Kay Rix:  I think my involvement must have been well under a year and then I took off for Liverpool to work at the Blackie, or, the Black-E, as it is now called.I was very young and very new to everything when I stepped through the door on Robert Street. I reached that door because [the Lab’s] accountant was dating a flatmate and I loved the idea of what you were doing. Looking back on my involvement there, mainly as a watcher on the desk where I sold tickets and welcomed people… remember one evening Biddy was standing next to me at Robert Street as I was selling a ticket to a man I’d never seen.   He looked at Biddy and told her that she had the loveliest face he had ever seen. My memories go much deeper about living at 126 Long Acre with David K[ilburn] and having you and Biddy [in the flat] just above us. You and Biddy wore great heavy dark overcoats in the winter [from Laurence Corner] with knitted red scarves wrapped around your necks. You cooked for us (wonderful beef stews with salad after the main course in the French style which I had never seen before). David K. made delicious moussaka and a stew made with juniper berries. Does this all ring a bell? And I remember a Christmas downstairs at David K’s when I roasted a turkey and it snowed. It felt like family to me and I think of it often. Biddy also showed me a closet of wild clothes she had designed… I hope you still have those!


[Not sure, but here at least is an image of one of them taken by rock photographer Dave Redom for Ray Durgnat’s article The Shape of Gear to Come, Art and Artists, August 1967. The model was Biddy’s sister, Pek].  

Biddy’s grass and clear PVC coat. Photo: David Redom